I’ve been yelled at by my share of angry people. After two years spent answering a customer assistance hotline for an online furniture store, I became accustomed to taking abuse from strangers and to apologizing for things that were not related to anything I could have ever done. During those two years, I found myself apologizing for bad weather in a remote part of the country that delayed someone’s package delivery. I apologized for the shoddy workmanship of products I’d never seen. I apologized for FedEx’s kicking some poor soul’s box down the stairs. Because I’m a sensitive soul, I did feel genuinely sorry for most of these callers and their frustrating situations. But the insanity of these apologies was not lost on me.
During the various calls I received, I was flirted with, called names, cursed out, threatened. I was screamed at by a woman whose daughter was going into labor in the next room. During the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, I spoke with someone who I became convinced was evil incarnate; after being told that the product he wanted to order was recently out of stock, he suggested that people in New Orleans who might have ordered that same product probably didn’t need it right now, so could one of theirs be re-routed to him? I ask you. I endured lengthy, exhausting phone calls during which I acted as a complete stranger’s therapist, tutor, confidante, or nemesis. It was a difficult, thankless job. Fortunately for my company, I was good at talking down extremely irate people so that by the end of our conversations, I had usually managed to gain their trust. If I had been working on commission based on how many people I coaxed out of psychotic rages, I could have retired in a year. As it was, I was not paid very much. But anyway. Best not to dwell on the past.
This afternoon I was on the other end of a call to customer service, which was bad enough. What made it worse was that I recognized the tricks of the trade as they were being used against me. “I know you’re just telling me that you understand my situation because that’s how you’re trained to respond to angry helpless people,” I wanted to snap. “I know you’re just putting me on hold because you can’t bear to talk to me right now and you want to go to the break room to grab a Danish. I know you’re telling me you’re going to go talk to someone about my situation, but really you’re just going to sit there for a few minutes because there’s nothing to be said on your end, and you just need me to think you’re trying to help. I know that the minute you hang up with me, you’ll immediately get another call from someone else just like me or worse and I know how much that sucks. I know!”
Finally, I couldn’t stand it. “I used to work in a call-center,” I started saying, as I was forced to call back again and again and representatives continued to transfer me back and forth before I managed to speak to a higher-up (and the higher up people get, the less easy it is to fluster them, and the better they are at repeating the party line, and the less likely they are to say things like, ‘I understand’). “I know that this situation is not your fault and that you’re doing your best to help me. I’m just getting frustrated and I’m sorry I’m taking it out on you.” Everything I said was a cliché that I could remember hearing; every response I got was just another calculated move on the customer service checkerboard, leading to an inevitable check-mate. Sometimes it’s helpful knowing how the process works from the other side, but sometimes it’s really not.
There is a small community of spiders living outside our front door (I guess it’s kind of a large community, if you’re me). There are about half a dozen webs of varying sizes, with spiders to match. The biggest one is pretty big, and she’s closest to our door. I swear that every evening when she emerges and I get a look at her, she’s grown a little larger. At this point, she’s pretty much reached critical unsquishable mass, and she’s been there for long enough that it feels like she more or less deserves to be there. Plus, I figure she’s eating all of the bugs that hang around outside our door at night. But still. I’d hate to run into her in a dark alley. I’ve taken to opening and closing the front door more gently than usual, so as not to disturb her.
I worry that one day, thedoorbell will ring, and I will open the door to someone dressed like a deliveryman in a cap and sunglasses.
“Special delivery,” they’ll say in a raspy voice, and when I reply that we aren’t expecting a special delivery, they’ll whisk off the hat and sunglasses and it will be THE SPIDER and she’ll eat my face off.
Ours is an uneasy truce.
One of the books I bought with my wonderful book store gift-certificate birthday present was “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz, which I later discovered had been one of the books read in my Boston bookclub. Boston Bookclub, we are in harmony even now. How I miss you.
In other book-related news, I went crazy yesterday and ordered 3 books from Half.com. Oh how I love Half.com, with its promise of $1.49 paperbacks, except that the price never includes shipping.
The books which are now headed my way are:
1) “Dry”, by Augusten Burroughs. I loved his first book, “Running With Scissors”. I recently devoured his latest, “A Wolf at the Table”, about his life growing up with a sociopathic father. It was terrifying but also reminded me how macabre and hilarious his writing is.
I recalled perusing “Dry” at the airport when it first came out several years ago, and deciding I couldn’t afford to buy it new just then. So I was long overdue to read it. (In airport news, the Raleigh airport has a used book store! I KNOW!! The last time I traveled by air in early May I bought and read “Ethan Frome” by Edith Wharton, because I somehow thought I had never read anything by Edith Wharton, except I have– “The Age of Innocense” and “The House of Mirth”, both of which I loved. So oops. Anyway “Ethan Frome” was absorbing but kind of a downer.)
2) “Nightwood”, by Djuna Barnes. Highly recommended to me by my friend Donn, I have been meaning to read this book for over a year, but every time I was at the library or the bookstore, it slipped my mind– kind of like how I can never remember to pick up milk at the grocery store, but I constantly buy packets of Taco Seasoning like there’s a great Taco Seasoning Famine sweeping the nation, even though we have a stack of such packets in the pantry at home. So in conclusion, I’m excited to read “Nightwood”.
3) “The Stories of John Cheever”, by Guess Who. I recently read a review of a new biography of Cheever by Blake Bailey entitled “Cheever: A Life”, and the review made me extremely curious to read the author’s work. (Although currently I’m reading “Rabbit is Rich”, by John Updike, and it’s kind of depressing me with it’s ‘lives of quiet desperation in the suburbs’ theme. And since Cheever is apparently known as the ‘Chekov of the suburbs’, I’m probably in for a fairly downbeat ride. But we’ll see.)
John Updike is one of those authors (along with Hemingway and Faulkner) whose work I know I should have read, or read more of, but just never did. So I’m trying to remedy this one book at a time, although the Garner public library branch is not helping me. Each time I go in there looking for a particular book by an author, they have a different book by that author that is not the one I wanted. So last month I went in looking for “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand (don’t even get me started on my hate-hate relationship with Ayn Rand) and came out with “Anthem”, which I probably won’t read. I went in looking for one of the earlier books in Updike’s Rabbit collection, and came out with a later one which probably spoils all the twists in the earlier books and presents a fairly depressed protagonists in his early 50s who feels that his best days are behind him. Another problem I have with the Garner library (and I hate to dis on libraries, because I loves me some libraries) is that it shelves romance novels in with regular fiction, which means that every third book on the shelves has some variation of the word ‘passion’ or ‘rogue’ in the title. I can see why they are shelved in this way though, since shelving the romances separately would only highlight how many more romance novels there are than non-romance novels. Dang it.
Anyway. Sorry for the rambling. What are you reading right now?
I’m having some trouble staying upbeat lately.
Ok, so maybe I’m having some trouble not wallowing in the depths of a weird, nebulous depression.
The problem is, I like to read the news. I like to stay informed. I like to know what’s going on in the world around me. But right now, reading article after article about the crumbling economic situation; constantly hearing about things ‘hitting bottom’, and about how a year from now the situation could be even worse, is pretty frightening. Because I don’t think I completely understand the ramifications of the current situation, and therefore, if things get worse, I feel like I’m rapidly going to be learning a lot of unpleasant lessons and having many new and difficult experiences.
Living cheap is nothing really new for me. I have lived paycheck-to-paycheck before, so it’s not that big a deal to do it now. I’m happy to pull up my socks, smile bravely, cancel my Netflix account and stop eating out or purchasing new clothes. But really, all of that is pretty easy to do. And somehow I feel like that is just the beginning.
Are you feeling more hopeful? Tell me I need to lighten up. A pie to the face might help, since Lent is over, and I am once again all about pie.
Am I unreasonable to instantly stop trusting any eye doctor who tells me I can leave my contact lenses in for days and days at a time? That just seems like a crazy bad idea to me, and it instantly makes me look at them sideways and think “Snake Oil Eye Salesman!” I mean really, why would you do that? My contacts get irritating after wearing them for a long day, and it’s a relief to take them out. Why on earth would you go to sleep with them in, then get up and wear them all day again?
Does anyone out there do that? Please ‘splain.
I’m giving up sweets again for Lent this year. I did it two years ago for the first time and it went pretty well. It enraged my family and made my pants fit a little less snugly, which for me are two signs of success.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing observing Lent?” My relatives asked me. “You weren’t raised Catholic. What the damn crap?”
It’s true that my decision to give something up for Lent is not the product of religious devotion, or even interest. Some might find this disconcerting or insulting. Why observe a religious tradition just because you think you need a break from junk food? I don’t have an easy answer to that, but I will say that giving something up DOES lead me to think more about the things I take for granted in life. It also leads to some vigorous and groundless whining. Mainly, though, I just like a challenge. I think the part of me that enjoys running outside in the rain, living through Boston winters, and taking unreliable public transportation, is the part that thinks giving up something for Lent is a swell idea. And 40 days is a long time to go without sweets when you’re the kind of person who considers chocolate covered pretzels to be part of a complete breakfast. The other part being coffee.
Last year I gave up beer for Lent, and that was much harder to go without than sweets. Think about it; when you’re in the mood for a cookie, you can always go have a beer or two instead. Eventually you’ll forget about the cookie. But when you’re in the mood for a beer and instead you have a cookie, you just feel sad about life.
So, here goes. As of today, no dessert for me. I’ll try not to whine too much about how I miss desserts, because when you get right down to it, I’m not being all that hard-core. I’m still drinking soda and putting sugar in my coffee. There’s only so much a girl can take. Even Boston winters have their warm days.
The dog always knows when I’m feeling low. I was in my dark place the other night, feeling lousy about life and missing New York City. I spent the entire drive home in a cloud of gloom, and Brian instinctively knew to give me a wide berth when I arrived.
Charlie, on the other hand, padded over to me where I sat on the couch, put his front paws in my lap, and looked into my eyes. I hesitated, then put my arms around his neck and felt slightly comforted. Charlie always knows when I need a hug, I thought. It’s nice just sitting here in his warm, doggy glow–
“Charlie!” I said, pushing him away gently as he began to lick my face. “Easy, boy.” We sat in silence for a moment. My thoughts drifted back to the miserable day I’d had, and how I sometimes felt like I didn’t belong in North Carolina. What was I doing here any–
“Charlie!” Now his cold nose was sliming my face. He began licking my chin. His breath was unappealing. But, you know, he was trying. I grabbed his muzzle and pushed it away again. I wished he would sit still for a few minutes! I just wanted to sit in peace, hugging him close, while reveling in my misery–
“CHARLIE!” Once again he had wormed his head out of my grasp and was now licking me across the mouth. I shoved his face to the side and the enthusiastic tongue-bath was instantly transferred to my palm.
“Charlie, I just want to sit here and relax,” I said in frustration, then gave up and started to laugh as he went back to licking my face in earnest. His breath smelled like a rotten corn dog. The fog began to lift, my melancholy dissipated. Things didn’t seem so bad anymore, and I couldn’t remember why I’d been upset. Thank goodness for dogs, sometimes.